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Israel-Palestine war: Labour Friends of Palestine says Israel is committing 'war crimes'

Parliamentary group states Israeli actions breach international law, as UK opposition bans council leaders from attending Palestine protests
People holding placards and flags during a pro-Palestinian national demonstration in London on 14 October 2023 (AFP)
People holding placards and flags during a pro-Palestine demonstration in London on 14 October 2023 (AFP)

A pro-Palestine parliamentary group within the UK's Labour Party has described Israel's actions on Gaza as "war crimes", days after the party's leader came under fire for defending Israel's siege on the blockaded enclave.

Labour Friends of Palestine said in a statement on Sunday that Israel's air strikes, siege and forcible ejection of people in Gaza were "collective punishment of the Palestinian people". 

"The continuous horrific devastation on innocent Palestinians in Gaza has so far left thousands dead including hundreds of children. International Law also applies to Israel," the group said. 

Israel has killed at least 2,329 people in Gaza over the past week. Of those killed, more than half are women and children. Over the same period, Israeli troops and settlers have killed 56 people in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

The war erupted on 7 October after Hamas launched a surprise multi-front assault on Israel, firing thousands of rockets and sending fighters into Israeli territory. More than 1,300 Israelis have been killed and scores of soldiers and civilians taken captive back to Gaza.

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Labour Friends of Palestine condemned Hamas and called for the release of Israeli hostages. 

It also said that Israel's decision to shut down electricity, food, water and medical supplies would "tip Gaza into catastrophe". 

"We were horrified to see the warning for 1.1m Palestinians to evacuate which, in our view, amounts to effective forcible transfer of half the population of Gaza," the group said.

"250k Palestinians in Gaza are from families made refugees 75 years ago. They were never allowed to return. The international community must not allow history to be repeated with forced transfer."

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It concluded that Israel's recent actions were in breach of international humanitarian law and, as such, were "war crimes". 

Labour bars council leaders from protests

Earlier this week Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, the UK's main opposition, came under criticism after stating that Israel had the "right" to totally cut power and water supplies to Palestinians in Gaza.

David Lammy, Labour's shadow foreign secretary, told the BBC on Sunday that "Israel has the right to deal with terrorism" but that it must do so "within international law".

But he refused to say whether he supported Israel's forcible transfer of 1.1m people from north Gaza, stating "it's not a yes or no" question. 

Instead, he said that, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had announced that a ground invasion of Gaza was imminent, then "against that backdrop of course it is right civilians must not be in harm's way".

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On Saturday, ahead of mass pro-Palestine protests across British cities, Labour sent a message to all of its local council leaders telling them not to attend pro-Palestine demonstrations. 

Middle East Eye has seen a leaked copy of that message.

"There will be a number of protests and demonstrations taking place over the weekend. Council leaders and Group leaders must not, under any circumstances, attend any of these events," the note, written by Labour general secretary David Evans, stated.

It warned that attending such events could lead them to be pictured close to "unacceptable speeches or chanting".

It also said that local Labour groups could not pass motions of solidarity without pre-approval, and that all social media posts had to be in line with Labour's front-bench position. 

Lammy defended the message, stating: "It is important that as we face and want to be the next government that people do not share platforms with people who do not share Labour's values and that they are careful and cautious."

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of central London on Saturday to demand that Israel halt its bombing campaign and siege of the Gaza Strip.

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